Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359
The author writes about three real-life seventeenth century women. The first is Glikl bas Judah Leib, a Jewish woman from Hamburg who worked as a merchant and who wrote down stories of her life and Yiddish folk tales. Glikl, who had twelve living children, was born in Hamburg. Her parents were prosperous traders and businesspeople in that cosmopolitan city. At age fourteen, she was married to the son of a trader named Haim Hamel. Glikl became a successful trader herself, and, after being widowed, decided to marry again, this time to a wealthy financier in Metz, France. Her husband went through bankruptcy and then died, and Glikl eventually moved in with her daughter and her stepson, who were wealthy residents of Metz. Her work mixed memoirs about her and her family with stories from Jewish tradition, and it reveals a great deal about Jewish life in Europe at the time.
Marie de l'Incarnation (born Marie Guyart) was a French Ursuline nun (part of a Catholic order) who founded a school for girls in Canada. After being widowed, she gave up her son, Claude Martin, to the care of others and felt the call to be a nun. In Canada, she worked closely with Native Americans, including members of the Huron and Algonquin tribes, and even learned their languages. She operated in a climate in which Native Americans often mistrusted the French because the French spread smallpox among Native populations. Marie wrote many books, including her memoirs, that are a testament to her religious work and her linguistic understanding of the Native American tribes she worked with.
Maria Sibylla Merian was a German Protestant painter who traveled with her daughter, Dorothea, to Suriname in 1699. Born in Frankfurt, she was sponsored to travel abroad to study insects. After two years, she left Suriname with brandied butterflies, lizard eggs, and crocodiles in bottles. She later published a book that detailed the metamorphosis of the butterfly. Her observations were likely informed only by a magnifying glass, not a microscope. Her work was noted for its emphasis on realism, instead of the metaphorical way natural subjects had been portrayed in art in the past.
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